Craft Claims Record in Buckeye Win Over North Dakota State
By Rob Ogden
So much of Aaron Craft's game goes unnoticed. Much of it doesn't even show up on the stat sheet. But his accomplishment Saturday night was impossible to ignore.
With a swift pass to LaQuinton Ross under the basket little more than 30 seconds into the second half of Saturday night's 79-62 win over North Dakota State, Craft became Ohio State's all-time career assists leader.
The assist, the 580th of Craft's almost three-and-a-half-year career, surpassed the previous mark set by Jamar Butler from 2004-to-2008.
Craft would add one more helper before the night was over to leave the all-time mark at 581 - for now.
Photo by Jim Davidson
"Ever since I've been here I've had the easy job," Craft said. "I've played with a lot of great shooters that have done the hard part. I just had to find them and put them in a great opportunity to score."
Craft also holds the school record for most career steals with 272 - a mark he set last season. Saturday night marked his 104th win as a Buckeye.
"It's hard to put into words what Aaron has meant to his program, to this university," coach Thad Matta said after the game. "Think about who he just passed, all the great players that have played at this university. It tells you the type of basketball player he is. One of the most unselfish players in Ohio State history.
The senior point guard from Findlay entered the night needing five assists to tie Butler's mark and reached that total with just more than a second remaining in the first half when he found Sam Thompson open in the corner for a last-second 3-pointer.
Craft was acknowledged for the accomplishment before the start of the second half, and didn't have to wait long to make the record his own.
"I'll probably think about it a lot more when I get older," Craft said. "It's great to think about now, but we've got more work to do."
As the only other senior on Ohio State's roster, Lenzelle Smith Jr. has been the beneficiary of many of those assists.
Smith scored a team-high 18 points Saturday night - his sixth-straight double-digit performance. Ross added 18, as well, continuing his hot streak. Ross has averaged more than 17 points in his past five games after struggling mightily early on.
Smith said playing with Craft makes it easy.
"You don't have to worry about it," he said. "You know Aaron's gonna find you."
Shooting percentages were a major worry for Matta earlier in year, but have improved recently.
The Buckeyes have shot better than 50 percent from the floor in each of their past five games.
"We've spent more time than imaginable shooting the basketball in practice recently," Matta said.
Photo by Jim Davidson
The Buckeyes knew they would need to shoot well to beat a Bison team that defeated Notre Dame earlier in the week.
North Dakota State coach Saul Phillips opened his post-game press conference by asking if anyone wanted to talk about the Notre Dame game.
He quickly moved on to commending the Buckeyes.
"Ohio State had one first-place vote. Guess who that first-place vote was," Phillips said, raising his hand. "I didn't change my mind tonight."
Bison forward Marshall Bjorklund had 26 points against the Fighting Irish, but was limited to 12 by Ohio State.
Phillips was left somewhat baffled after the game.
"I was up all night trying to find a weakness," he said. "Then I realized they don't really have a lot."
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